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Nov 21, 2008

Light steel frame building an attractive construction alternative

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The South African Light Steel Frame Building Asso- ciation (Sasfa) a division of the Southern African Institute of Steel Construction (SAISC), reports that light frame steel building (LSFB) is a construction method that has become fully integrated into the local construction industry over the past two years.

Sasfa director John Barnard says that the ability of the South African construction industry to master the skills of LSFB, combined with the growing understanding of the overall cost and energy savings of the technique, has contributed to the success of the practice.

Barnard adds that if the growth of an industry’s association is any reflection of the overall interest in the industry itself, then the 36% growth in Sasfa membership in 2008 is a sure indication of the general belief and faith in the direction the LSFB industry is taking and contractors’ desire to participate in it.

Another important indication of the growing popularity of the LSFB business is the overwhelming interest in Sasfa’s website, which is receiving some 500 unique visitors and more than 800 visits each month, says Barnard.

He comments that the association regularly receives enquiries about the building methodology, which has, in a short space of time, become an acceptable building alternative for low-rise buildings in South Africa.

Barnard reports that one of the notable factors in the success of the LSFB industry is its acceptance by the relevant municipalities and authorities. Sasfa has worked closely with the National Home Builders Registration Council, which accepts LSFB projects through the ‘rational design’ route of compliance with the building regulations. “More importantly, leading banks are issuing bonds on an increasing basis for projects using the method. In this regard, each project is thoroughly evaluated before the bond is issued and so far there have been very few problems,” he adds.

Apart from the rapid growth in Sasfa membership, the number of companies that manufacture light steel frame sections has grown by 65% during the past year, bringing the profiling capacity of the industry up to 39 000 t of steel a year, resulting in 55% growth a year.

Expressed in terms of building areas, Barnard reports that the yearly capacity of light steel frame roof truss manufacturers is now 1,8-million square metres, while the yearly capacity of full system manufacturers, including walls, floors and roof trusses is in excess of 1,6-million square metres.

“The association is proud to say that 84% of this capacity belongs to Sasfa members, illustrating the cohesive support the association enjoys from industry,” comments Barnard.

One of the reasons for the rapid growth of the LSFB technology in South Africa is its sustainability.

Barnard says that LSFB buildings appear no different to conventional buildings. It is a more cost-effective building method, with financial savings possible, mainly, from significant time savings in project completion, less rework and considerably reduced logistical costs. In addition, LSFB is more energy efficient than heavy construction methods, with regard to the energy consumed in the production and transportation of the materials and the energy relating to the heating and cooling of the building over its design life.

“These savings offer significant advantages, especially now with high-energy costs and pressure on electricity generation capacity,” says Barnard.

Education and Training

Education and training is also a contributing factor in the success of the LSFB industry and Sasfa has played a significant role in this process. “The association recognised from the outset that it was dealing with a new paradigm in the construction industry in South Africa, and that an education programme would be essential,” says Barnard.

The first part of the education programme was to prepare trainers. Barnard says the association realised that it needed to get as many experts as possible out into the field as quickly as possible. Instead of sending people overseas at great expense, it asked an experienced Australian trainer, Lex Somerville, to South Africa.

The programme was successful, with 13 trainers receiving up-to-date instruction and ‘spreading the word’ throughout the country. The erection and cladding course is currently being offered by Tjeka Training on a regular basis.

Another crucial aspect to the education programme was to familiarise the industry with the new Sasfa building code. The codes were published after extensive investigation and consultation by Sasfa towards the end of 2007.

“Understanding the nuts and bolts of the business was essential to the growth of the industry as a whole; to this end a number of training programmes were held throughout the country with an overwhelming response from the industry,” says Barnard.

Somerville, together with Barnard, SAISC executive chairperson Dr Hennie de Clercq, and others, was contracted to present the Sasfa code training course.

These seminars had a fourfold purpose. This included the enhancement of the general understanding of the LSFB industry, to establish a familiarity with the Sasfa code, to clear up uncertainties that the market may have had about the building method, and to enhance the quality of design and construction of LSFBs in South Africa.

In addition, Barnard says that Sasfa is planning further training courses which are aimed at building inspectors. This training course will be introduced when the code is formally ratified by the South African Bureau of Standards, and published as the South African National Standards 517.

Edited by: Laura Tyrer
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